As Senator Tim Johnson confirms the open playing field we've been assuming for quite some time, a well-funded out-of-state conservative PAC puts some teeth in the threat to the GOP machine's hope that achievementless former Governor M. Michael Rounds would enjoy a free pass through the 2014 primary to the Republican nomination for Senate:

The Senate Conservatives Fund, which claims to have raised $16 million for conservative Senate candidates in 2012, says its review of Rounds’ record found him to be “too liberal” on issues including taxes, government bureaucracy and the 2009 stimulus bill.

"We’re looked at his record and surveyed our members in the state and concluded he’s just too liberal for the job," said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund. "We cannot support him, but we’ll be looking for a conservative alternative" [David Montgomery, "National Conservative Group Blasts Rounds," Political Smokeout, 2013.03.26].

The Senate Conservatives Fund is the outfit retired South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint founded to help elect folks like Marc Rubio (FL), Ron Johnson (WI), Jeff Flake (AZ), Ted Cruz (TX), and Rand Paul (KY).

Pat Powers tries to wish away this threat to a Rounds coronation by dismissing DeMint's group as not caring about South Dakota Republicans. One might read that they are not paying enough attention to South Dakota politics in their statement that they don't know yet if Rep. Kristi Noem is someone they can support... but one might also read that they are simply waiting to hear if Rep. Noem is willing to cowgirl up and take on a strong member of her own party or if she'll decide that her safest route to building her own celebrity and power is to hang on to her House seat and angle for a Palinesque VP nomination in 2016.

More likely, DeMint's group knows that Rep. Noem is as guilty of supporting the stimulus and other self-serving big government spending (farm subsidies, crop insurance, pine beetle funding, the VA in Hot Springs...) as Rounds. They know she's just a climber, not a real conservative. But they also know that the other folks who might raise the true conservative anti-RINO banner in South Dakota—e.g., Gordon Howie, Bill Napoli—are too radical to pass muster with a statewide electorate.

Then again, if they can get Rand Paul elected... hmmm... has Stace Nelson's phone rung yet?

A primary's coming to South Dakota, and if Jim DeMint is investing, it could be a heck of a show.